The big ravine close to the Black Hill is desolated, but well known to shepherds of surrounding auls. The trouble often comes from this ravine.
Black Hill, just as a fur hat, is covered with scrubby Caragana and spiraea bushes. The Caragana heads show pale and tender green – buds have already burst. The ravine is completely overgrown with briar. Underneath its prickly lush carpet there are hidden wolf dens.
Cool May blasts of wind are blowing out of the ravine carrying far away the smells of young grasses and wild onions. Bushes move and rustle gloomily and dryly as if whispering.
In late spring the wolf and she-wolf came to the old dens. Old dens were washed out with water; a man could easily get inside. Wolves dug out a new, tighter den nearby and connected it with the old narrow dark holes.
Soon, the wolf's paws have trampled down the freshly shoveled ground. Whitish skin of the she-wolf hasn’t shed yet, when smoky gray wolf cubs appeared in the den.
One quiet morning she-wolf was lying in a sunny spot underneath the tall panicles of the yellow dock. There was no wind, hot, she got drowsy. She dozed, occasionally opening her dull eye. Her flanks fell down, nipples were swollen with milk. The skin on the back was nervously twitching, nipples were constantly quaking.
Weak crunch came out of the bushes. She-wolf jumped up, whirling from the ground the flying pieces of white wool, and grinned dully grunting. The wolf cubs were dabbling at her feet.
And immediately, flying over the bushes’ branchy wall the lamb carcass plopped down in front of she-wolf. Following this, a big, heavy wolf with a low down tail has jumped out quietly. Dropping the reddish foam from a muzzle he sniffed the she-wolf and she greedily licked his bleeding cheek.
The lamb was still alive. The wolf and she- wolf went for him and tore asunder in one minute. Two white-toothed voracious chapsswallowed large chunks of the gentle, tender meat. Green eyes were glowing angrily.
Having gobbled up the lamb without a trace, the wolf and she-wolf have sprawling out on the lush fragrant grass and stretched out at a full length. Then one by one they began to regurgitate the swallowed meat.
The cubs, one by one have crawled up to the meat and humming and jostling began to tousle it. Only two of them that dropped last werestill blind. She-wolf dragged them closer and lay down around the nipples.
The next day, when the sun was high, she-wolf sensed from a distance a resistant, thick smell of horse. Quickly stuffing the cubs into the den,she hid in the bushes.
There was the sound of human voices and horse tramping.
People gathered near the den, jumped off their horses. The long shepherds clubs shallowly pattered on the ground.
She-wolf was standing among the wild rose on ravine’s steep slope, tipping the tongue off the snarling chaps. She saw everything.
Throwing over the heads and necks of cubs the strong belt tie-up, two-legged were dragging them one by one out of a dark hole. Five of them were killed immediately. One had his hindpaws broken and thrown down near the head of the gnawed lamb. The cub will crawl, whine, and the wolves will take him away and leave these places for a long time. And the smallest of the brood was taken by people along.
The horse gully ceased in the ravine. Hardened black-humped wolf and white she-wolf came on the both sides to the lying cub and fiercely grin at him, and then at each other. She-wolf grabbed the cub and slid down a ravine. Wolf ran after her in high flying jumps.
The den became empty.
A boy lived in an aul called Kurmash. He was the one, who received a blind wolf cub. Elders were saying: the gray was blind when got to the people - maybe he can get accustomed to the aul.
Kurmash didn’t leave him, prepared a clean bowl and soft leather collar for him.
Two days later the cub opened his eyes, but didn’t get out from the yurt - the barking was herd outside and terribly smelled by the dog. At night Kurmash was taking the cub into bed with him. For his sake the boy was going to bed apart from his old grandmother, whom he loved more than all the people in the world. She was the only one, who didn’t approve his affection to the weak, transparently gray animal with sharp, as prickles, teeth.
- He has not seen yet, when his fangs grew up-grandmother said. –Merely as he will get to his feet - will press ears to the nape.
- And boy was getting angry with her.
By the midsummer, the cub grew older, stronger and did not differ from the puppies of the aul of the same age. If he would be shaggier, can look like the little wolfhound. But the life in the aul was bondage for him. Herding dogs did not want to come to terms with him, the same as an old granny. Growling, grin chaps met him whenever he ventured to appear out of the yurt.
- Kurmash protected him, and faithful watchdogs were leaving from the boy snapping aggrievedly. It was crowded, stuffy and boring for the cub to stay in yurt. He wanted out to the steppe, in multi-color high grass, to unknown space. One day, a tall black piebald dog from the Big yurt waylaid when the boy was not around, drove the cub from his yurt, brought down and crushed him with a heavy fangs for a long time. Other dogs drew up and ecstatically barking started to snap the gray by his legs and sides. Children and adults have run up and barely repulsed the wolf. Scruffy and bitten, he crawled to the yurt, sat back to it and silently grin his white-toothed chaps.
- Just look what a dumb ... Proud one! - surprised the men. - The puppy would drill the land with his scream now.
And women said:
- A thief! That is why he is dumb ...
And it was true. Even Kurmash was astonished and disturbed by the voracity of the cub. The boy was spoiling and feeding him without a hitch, much better than other dogs. It seemed that the cub never get enough.
Aul’s dogs were lean, they were unpretentious. The cub had his hips and chest tight, fat scruff was growing significantly. And he was always hungry scouring in the yurt and rolling his wet black nose.
When people were around he did not touch the food, turning his neb away. But as soon as a man moved away, he instantly devoured everything he got and looked wistfully at the empty flat dish, as so have not eaten anything. As soon as the people gazed, he greedily grabbed everything what’s lying about and fall into his teeth. He dragged off the master's boiled meat, was lapping sour milk from the pot as if it was set for him, and biting fresh skins hanging out to dry on the yurt’s frame.
He got pinched often and was beaten pitifully. He experienced the strokes of the rolling pin, after which it was buzzing in his head, and a sharp, searing pain of the fine whistling whip. Turning away cannily, he silently grin his white fangs. There was no case that he bruised would give a voice.
Meanwhile, in the aul people began to say that he slips during the night, unnoticed by the dogs, to the folds and muzzles the lambs’ broad tails, and the sheep are afraid of him. Someone saw him stealthily running into the steppe.
Kurmash have not listened to the aul’s gossips. But no matter how the boy was trying and teaching his gray, the other could not understand the difference between the food he'd been stealing from the one given to him by the masters.
He didn’t fear Kurmash and was eaten in front of him. When the boy was giving him a meat, the cub did not take it, but snatched a piece out of his hands. But Kurmash has never raised his stick, which used to drive away the dogs. The boy was admiring the cub, his gloomy independent frowningly look, his formidable slightly darkened scruff and strength, which was growing day by day stubbornly.
And Kurmash called his favorite Kokserek, which means Grey the Cruel-Hearted.
By the end of the summer Grey the Cruel-Hearted was already little similar to the aul’s dogs. Long-legged, like a calf, with sharp hunch, as an ox, he outgrew them all. He didn’t keep his tail like a dog and therefore seemed larger, and his scruff and back looked like a drawn bow.
Now, he did not run away from the black and piebald male dog, and dogs stopped bullying him. As soon as he turned towards them his big fronted stone-gray face and wrinkled upper lip, those rushed away helter-skelter. Usually, the dogs when saw him, kept a pack. They both were always on the alert.
Nobody noticed the wolf frolicking in the aul. He did not play with Kurmash. He remembered his nickname well and resorted when Kurmash or the old grandmother were calling him, but ran slowly, lazy jogging and wagging his tail.
He did not touch the dogs, did not turn on their barking, and didn’t chase the fleeing. Most often, he was lying in the shade of the yurt straighten his pointy ears and sullenly narrowed the green eyes.
Kurmash was proud of the silent green-eyed beast and laughed merrily when the neighbor's dogs, yelping with fear, embarked on their heels. In truth, the boy sometimes feared himself of Gray the Cruel-Hearted, but would never admit it, even before the old dear grandmother.
The owner of the black and piebald dog was boasting:
- What is your gray with a loppy tail! My black and piebald will twist him all at once, just give it to him! I would have long stifled him, if not chased away.
Once, in haste, for the sake of try, he hallooed the black and piebald. The dog without hesitation compulsively barking has rushed to the wolf, stroked with his fangs on the shoulder. He was aimed to the neck, but missed. At the last moment the wolf has dodged and before the dog managed to rebound, darted silently in a jump, took him by the scruff of the neck and threw him to the ground. Huge dog rolled down from the hill, just as a helpless fat sheep. Wolf also has missed; otherwise he would have pulled the dog's throat out.
Kurmash has run out and withdrew Gray the Cruel-Hearted, and the owner drove back his black and piebald dog.
Late in the evening, two wolves have suddenly attacked the sheep, which were grazing near the aul.
The shepherd started crying desperately and whistling. Teens and elders rode on the horseback from aul. With a stunning barking as a friendly pack rushed for rescue all the aul’s dogs, and Gray the Cruel-Hearted along with them.
Wolves went into the steppe. They were pursued – but didn’t catch.
On the nearest hills the riders and dogs stopped. In the distance, on a high ridge of the Black Hill, in the dim, uncertain light the gray shadows were gliding.
- They now showed up bright and early - said the shepherd. Only Kurmash noticed that wolves’ traces with muzzle almost touching the ground silently ran Gray the Cruel-Hearted.
The boy fell behind the people and fearlessly went into the dark to the Black Hills. He was calling tenderly for a long time:
- Kokserek! Kokserek ...
But Gray the Cruel-Hearted did not come to his call.
Wolf appeared in aul at night. Getting up in front of his yurt, he slowly rubbed with his iron claws the dry, hard-packed ground, pulling up clouds of dust. Looked up to the starry sky and gasped for the autumn icy air, eagerly sniffing in the tender wafts from the Black Hills side.
During the day Gray the Cruel-Hearted was seen in the aul and at night he went out again to the steppe.
He disappeared for three days. Returned back emaciated, fiercely hungry, but still gloomy and without a collar. When Kurmash called him, he came up, lowering and, if threatening, his head. The boy was delighted, grabbed him by the short muscular neck. Wolf broke, ears pressed to the back of his head, but even grandmother did not scold him and started to hustle about preparing food.
He ate terribly, and Kurmash stepped away from him.
- Wow! This is a breed - said Kurmash’s father. - The eyes of the beast are green-green, glowing during the day. It is time, my son; it's time to strip off his skin.
And boy began to tremble fearing that now the elders will not give up and kill the wolf.
But it seemed that Gray the Cruel-Hearted understood, what they were talking about him. As soon as people have turned away, he was gone. No one had seen when he left the aul.
Many days later Kurmash was searching in vain for him in the cheegrass bushes - sadly, with the threat. In vain! The windy autumn was gone, harsh winter covered the steppe with white felt. Gray the Cruel-Hearted did not come back.
Until the late autumn he fed by hare away from home, and did not disdain eating mice. Ground-squirrels were greasy, and he treated himself with them, like a fox. And after snow the hunger drove him to the human wintering, sheep’s fold.
Now he came stealthily, like a stranger. Wool rose straight up on him when he saw the people.
Night after night he circled, dodged the snow-covered hills, leaving a flying trail on the snow of heels and claws. The steam billowed from his slightly wrinkled gray muzzle. He stopped on the leeward side, and the rich smell of barn and cattle hit his nose, and dog’s restless barking – the ears. Wolf was furiously clacking his teeth. Now dogs are as aware as he is hungry.
In deaf snow-stormy hour, he tried to get closer to the wintering. But it seemed that the sleepless dogs knew from where he goes. He was met by the whole pack at the head of the black and piebald dig and hunted him away.
The wind calmed down, it froze. Wolf started dancing, squatting on his hind paws. Hard snow crust burned his heels; black corners of the chaps froze, hungry pain tied up the belly. Wolf trotted up the hill. The snow sparkled under the strong moonlight. Gray the Cruel-Hearted looked up to the sky, and frozen in a convulsive, not experienced before languor, howled sadly in a drawling manner.
Immediately in aul the frantic barking flared up.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted did not lower his head. Suddenly, from a distance, from the Black Hill, came the muffled, melancholy response. Wolf straightened his back while tremble. Someone echoed, beckoning him. He listened, sniffed, and ran swiftly to the call.
At the way down to the ravine he stopped aware, wincing from a strong fever. From the Black Hill the snow-white she-wolf was coming down to him.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted kept her at a bay. She was coming up; he jumped off, showing his teeth, clutching his ears. But he could not retreat. And when she went on his trail, sniffing him, and then turned around, whining piteously, and buried her warm nose into his groin, he stood still. She-wolf ran away quietly. He caught up with her and licked the cheekbone.
Shoulder to shoulder, they set off up the ravine, passed through it and turned to the human habitation. Over the crests of the hills, they in half-hour non-stopping tirelessly paved a giant semicircle of a rare double-track, and only the crust was crunching clearly under their paws. Then, as if agreed, they rushed together down to the aul.
The moon has dropped down. The night was in its wane. Gray the Cruel-Hearted and white she-wolf flew in a whirlwind over aul, as a large ravine, and both saw how from the yellowish bank of snow near the sheepfold the long-haired shaggy dog flashed after them, whisking off the entire pack. It was, of course, the black and piebald dog.
Wolves swept from the aul in full swing. The black and piebald one kept up, intensely, strenuously barking. The pack behind him was stretching and thinning out. And Gray the Cruel-Hearted tempered the gallop, listening viciously to the barking – the dog was bursting with rage and anger.
Near the hollow the pack has stopped, and the black and piebald male dog stopped likewise and ran back to the pack. The she-wolf hurried after him first.
In the desolated steppe it is complicated for the dog to run away from the wolf. But the black and piebald dog didn’t wimp out, although stayed alone. He lived to fight with the wolf, and grappled with the she-wolf without hesitation when Gray the Cruel-Hearted rushed at him and bend underneath. She-wolf with a shrill roar dug her teeth into dog's throat.
Soon, only a tail, gnawed head and rare shreds of wool were left from the huge black and piebald dog. Wolves have swallowed even the bloody snow.
After having stodge themselves, they went to the Black Hills and sprawled in ravine on the clean snow.
Since that night, they kept together. And the grey trouble started spreading around the neighborhood.
Here and there, near the Black Hills and far away from it, wolves were killing sheep and slaughtering cows and horses, smashing down the camels, spoiling the best guard dogs and escaping with impunity.
An ill rumor was spreading from aul to aul.
There is a whole pack of them, gray demons, and all of them, just as werewolves, do not fear the human. Not a bit of fear - that's what! Their leader is hardened, tall as a calf, so furious and horrible ... He is not running away, even when the man comes up to him close! It is scary to come closer. The pack will rush on the one side, shepherds rush back, their dogs bay them, and meanwhile, the leader takes a sheep on his back from the other side...
Wolves have not kept in one place for a long time. Today they were seen near the Black Hills, and tomorrow - in ten, twenty, thirty versts to the south, to the east. Everybody knows: a good run is better than a bad stand.
Steppe out there is hilly, with multiple ravens, overgrown with bushes. Pleasure to look at it from the Black Hill: like a sea during the storm, it slumps with high waves, boils with shaggy crests. In such places wolves feel comfortable and shepherds - troublesome. It is easy being invisible to get close to the flock, fold, easy to lay wait and stray from the flock the fallen behind cattle. And it's hard to track down the gray, impossible to predict where he’ll come from as an inaudible smoky shadow. And during the snowy winter one can hunt– but not catch him! Deep are the snow-drifts. Wolf goes through the virgin lands. The crust holds the wolf but not a rider: the horse falls down, can’t race - just plows the snow.
People tried near the large ravine, where the wolves’ holes were found, to throw the poisoned meat, and came home by Weeping Cross. Are the werewolves really would take the poison? Young aul’s softy dogs picked up the poisoned meat near the ravine and left lying out there. Wolves didn’t touch even the frozen dog corpses.
That winter was nourishing for the wolves. Gray the Cruel-Hearted grew and grew, filling with a stone weight, but still could not quench his terrible thirst for flesh and blood.
Only by the spring his hunger calmed down slightly, and his veins caught fire of another desire for a while.
The snow in steppe was getting loose and darkened. Ragged patches of the thaw holes appeared on the hills, red viscous ground was breaking surface. The unprecedented playfulness overcame Grey the Cruel-Hearted. He became fussy while running, circling worthlessly, lashed around the she-wolf like a puppy. She lay down to rest, and he danced around her, raising whirlwinds of sparkling snow, foolishly jumped over her, pushed with chest, paws, neb. She snapped angrily, and he grabbed her by the neck and holding for a while let it go. Sometimes he tousled her by the scruff of her neck holding down. She yelped grumpily and bitten.
Then she became kinder and started to sniff and lick him more often.
To the north of the Black Hill there were extensive shallow salt lakes. Their banks were tightly overgrown with cheergrass and reed. Wild places - not for nothing there is a constant bird call hanging over the underbrush. Here, the white she-wolf brought Grey the Cruel-Hearted in spring, when the lake shores have grown green lushly.
Now he was hunting far away from his native land. And she-wolf never left the den and feed on the birds' eggs picked up in the reeds.
Once he brought her a wether broadtail, but she didn’t meet him near the den as usual. He restlessly scraped the ground with paws and she got out of the den exhausted, barely dragging her feet.
The strong unfamiliar smell came out from the den. Gray the Cruel-Hearted bristled angrily stacking into a den the grinning face and pulled with his teeth a flimsy homely cub.
She-wolf weakly yapping rushed to him, but could not stop him. Gray the Cruel-Hearted was hitting the small blind cub against the ground, until he turned into unshaped gray clod and then disgustedly chucked him over.
When he turned to the she-wolf, she was lying between him and the den, and other cubs were crawling to her and nuzzled to her nipples.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted, gloomy smacking his lips, laid aside.
She-wolf started to come out hunting with him, but she was still clumsy, weighty, and every now and then ran away to her brood. Often, they were returning to the den empty-handed, having got nothing, and he was avidly looking at the cubs, and she was biting him, chasing away from the den.
Early, on April morning, when the cubs already saw the light, Gray the Cruel-Hearted and white she-wolf were running along the lake to their bed, she - in front, not allowing to outrun her, he - close behind her tail, and suddenly they smelled a man. Cloud of birds raised above the nests, horses brattled, shepherds clubs knocked against the ground ... Wolves were hiding in the reeds, until it became quite. And when stole up to the den they found only a single cub with broken paws.
For a few days she-wolf was wandering relentlessly around the aul, where people took her other cubs. In vain Gray the Cruel-Hearted was recalling her. She did not go after him - and they got noticed.
The ground dried up and covered with flowers. Horses were rapidly gaining strength among the lush spring grass. And one warm blue day the wolves heard a noisy chase after them. Three riders on frisky horses kicked the wolves out from a large ravine near the Black Hill.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted flew like an arrow. She-wolf fell behind in the ravine yet. Her nipples had no time to harden, and she was weighty while run. At first Gray the Cruel-Hearted returned to her, ran behind biting her on her hips, hurrying up. She growled at him. He looked back at the horsemen and silently, swiftly went forward.
At the way out of the ravine he abruptly turned and jumping floppy, just like a goat, flew up the ravine’s slope overgrown with prickly wild rose.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted hid in the bushes, and white she-wolf raced straight through the open space, and riders with a whoops and hooting rode after her.
At night Gray the Cruel-Hearted snorting, gently trotted on the trail of chase. In the distant hollow on the dew-damp grass he found a spot of dried blood. He sniffed and licked it. Here the white she-wolf was lying, and here her smell ceased.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted was sitting not moving straining his bowed chest, humping the brown nape, until the moon has come out. And when the moon has come out, he howled sadly, dully.
As if petrified, Gray the Cruel-Hearted was sitting in a hollow until morning. Before dawn he rose up yawning convulsively. Hunger chilled him to the belly.
All summer he casted around the steppe alone putting the flocks and auls in fear. Night robbery didn’t cease, and shepherds cursed their fortune. It seeded that around the Black Hill, near the salt lakes and throughout the neighborhood only one gray with brown hump was walking, but during the summer killed at least half a hundred of lambs and calves! Fathomless was his belly.
Twice people were started after him on fresh horses with a pack of frisky dogs; both times he managed to escape. Having such a heavy belly he was swift of foot, a robber, and tireless. The wolf did not run away – he flew disgracing the aul’s slashing fellows.
During the day he was hiding, catching up on sleep in the dark wilds of reeds on swampy, marshy lakes, and at night nothing could stop him - neither a scream of man, nor barking of dogs, no thunder and fire of rifle’s shot. Shepherds were misspending bullet after bullet targeting at a gray shade, lead bullets uselessly whistled over the flocks – the wolf, unharmed, was coming back as soon as echo abated in the night darkness.
Over the summer, Gray the Cruel-Hearted got batten. Thick wool stand on end like prickles on a hedgehog, but the belly was pursed and had no rest.
He fell into the habit of walking after the horses’ herds. Sneaking up to on the foal he would grab him by the short tail and held so that the latter could not pull away. The foal was twisted out with all his might; wolf suddenly was releasing him, and he rolled head over heels on the ground. Wolf was jumping at him and his fangs clamped on the throat of the victim.
Autumn flashed short, rainy, and here again the many-day long, snowy storms wailed out and swept.
In light frosty night on the bare crest of the hill Gray the Cruel-Hearted suddenly knocked up against a large wolf pack. Whirling the prickly whirlwind of snow dust, the pack attacked and surrounded him. Gray the Cruel-Hearted turned out to be the nose tip to nose tip with the leader - a huge hardened beast with grin chaps steaming in the cold.
But the pack realized soon that it had met not a prey, but the owner of this land. Pursing his thick tail, crouching, Gray the Cruel-Hearted was clacking furiously with his iron fangs. He was half the age of the leader, but was not inferior to him neither in height nor in weight; no one in the pack had such steep smooth hips.
She-wolves approached first and started sniffing Gray the Cruel-Hearted. Younger wolves approached cautiously.
Only the leader was not allowed to sniff him, and the other also would not let him close. Aliens sprawled on the solid snowdrift swallowing the frozen lumps of snow. Gray the Cruel-Hearted did the same. And he went with the pack near the leader.
By morning the snowstorm began.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted brought the pack to the herd of horses. They beat off the two-year-old mare, drove her into a deep snowdrift and Gray the Cruel-Hearted dumped her on the snow, as he did once with the black and piebald dog. Wolves piled on top of a horse from all sides. Gray the Cruel-Hearted habitually grabbed the shoulder blades and jumped off from a blunt fangs blow against the shoulder. The leader snarling was standing around him: Gray the Cruel-Hearted touched his core part of the prey.
However, there was no time for fight at that moment – horse’s corpse was melting, steaming. Young wolves bit into its belly up to the ears. She wolves were tortured the corpse pushing and growling. Gray the Cruel-Hearted and the leader got back into a tight circle.
There were only two of them over the last hind leg. The others at respectful distance with their heads resting on paws watched how they were tearing the meat crunching the horse’s bones. Both moved away at the same time breathing hard, glancing at one another non-peacefully, smeared with blood up to the eyes.
They lay down separately in the center of the pack. She-wolves were circling around Grey the Cruel Hearted. He kept his green eyes with the old leader.
A few more nights they led the pack together, holding head-to-head, and if one went in a half-step forward, another one immediately snapped his fangs against the hip or leg.
And nights stood out clear, windless, hungry. In numb throat of Grey the Cruel-Hearted the rage has bubbled.
Wolves went along the ravine when a hare escaped from under their feet. The hare bounced and lashed in front of the wolves’ noses at least for a verst before he was crushed. Grey the Cruel-Hearted and old leader grabbed him at the same time and ripped in half. The pack fell far behind them.
Both eagerly swallowed their pieces and then jumped at each other. Snowballs and pieces of wool flew like a fan. Drumming clank of fangs echoed in the silence.
Two hardened squabbled, standing on the hind legs, grappling with the fore feet, deeply digging the snowdrift underneath them. For a moment they drifted apart. The leader growled, he was not averse to finish now. But Grey the Cruel-Hearted contrived and silently grabbed him just below the ear - a dog’s sleight, that’s, how the wolfhounds do. He bent, crashed under and instantly bit into the high mighty scruff. Clenched his fangs as pliers and broke the wolf's neck.
The old leader was lying sideways on the snow and grin the chaps limply. The pack came in time and without a pause immediately tore him down to the bones. Wolf has no mercy over lying - neither stranger, nor of his own.
Day and night stayed the horse wranglers on their horses but could not secure the herds. Such a fear, such a robbery has never known near the Black Hill. Before shepherds’ very eyes wolves mowed all the living.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted led his pack from hibernation to hibernation from sundown till dawn. Wolves got repleted fast, became heavy, but the leader did not give them a long time to sleep. He was hitting, biting, even the she-wolves and she-wolves angrily chased the younger wolves. Pack took off from bed and swept across the steppe like an avalanche.
And there was an incident when the gray gang attacked a man. The lonely traveler was riding in a sledge on the beaten track. Rarely the wolf dares to approach such a road, cross it, especially when man goes there. But Grey the Cruel-Hearted did not hesitate for long and clamped down his ears to the nape and chased the sledge.
The horse took the head. The pack reached her and turned off the road into a snowdrift. The sledge got stuck, the horse broke down up to the chest and wolves in a grey pile have straddled her.
The traveler, mad with fear, rolled off the sledge and lashed out to run through the deep snow. Grey the Cruel-Hearted jumped over the sledge and in short light jumps ran after the running man. Two hardened she-wolves immediately set off after the leader.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted, as if playing and trying out him, made a wide circle and stood on man’s way. She-wolves stopped behind the doomed, helpless and yet untouchable two-legged, waiting. Will the gray chieftain touch him? Will he strike down a man on all fours?
People rescued him. From the nearest hill came the hum and clatter. On the road at a gallop, whistling shrilly, rushed down into the ravine two riders.
Grey the Cruel-Hearted wrinkled the upper lip and looking around faster and faster went off on the snow virgin land. The pack withdrew from the pulled to pieces horse and melted away in the twilight, drifting with whirled snow steppe.
And once again Gray the Cruel-Hearted tried to grip with the man overtly.
It happened in the afternoon. Hard frost has frozen the steppe. Whitish-blue sky was covered with the sparkling haze, through which looked the sullen, crimson, bloody eye of the sun. Snow was ringing.
Wolves humping, crouching and as if steaming in the frost, came close to the aul. And suddenly, from behind the marginal wintering came out the Bactrian camel and shakily walked right on the pack. Between his humps a man was sitting, alone, and his head was wrapped in white and this is – the women's dress. Grey the Cruel-Hearted pricked up his ears.
The camel - not a horse, and rider on it - not the shepherd, not the herdsman. Dogs barked, not leaning out of the aul. The pack stood still on the spot looking forward to an easy prey. However, the camel raised the lipped head and ran to the pack with a smooth swinging trot. Wolves started to lush, jumping to each other, and sprinkled away from him to the steppe.
What a strange camel! Where is he running? Why he is not afraid? And the strange rider – doesn’t scream or whistle, doesn’t swing his arms.
Wolves were running without a backward glance. Gray the Cruel Hearted was running too. The camel stopped, sniffing loudly. Burning January wind ruffled the dirty-brown beards on his hips. The woman sat between his humps without moving, just a scarf on her head swelled like a white ball.
All wool raised up on the Grey the Cruel-Hearted. He stood still on the spot, pulled the neb with large forehead and prickle ears, sniffing.
Nothing special ... Two-legged doesn’t scare him; he scared the two-legged himself, barely having time to grow, even in the aul. And here, in the open steppe, he, the grey one, is one of the most frightening.
The pack scattered, wolves loomed up far on the hills in shining frosty mist. Grey the Cruel-Hearted grinned. And when the camel raised his head again and went to him, he slowly trotted to the hills, keeping low, as if dragging in the snow his tail and luring the rider away from the aul, close to the pack.
Camel stopped – the wolf immediately sat down on his tail. Camel began to trot – the wolf was running ahead of him too. The distance between them was slowly decreasing. Grey the Cruel-Hearted patiently, coldly was trying on.
Finally the aul hid behind a snow hill-side and a pack – here it is!
Grey the Cruel-Hearted straightened and did the same as the day before with a lonely traveler: jumping playfully ran around the camel, cutting out his way to aul. Camel trampled on the spot, roared stridently and Grey the Cruel-Hearted saw how on the roar rushed down from the hill at once the emboldened pack.
But he did not notice how between the camel humps suddenly, out of nowhere, appeared gleaming on the sun smooth black stick with a round unblinking eye on the end.
Now from a cloudless winter sky the thunder stroked. Booming echoes leaped over the surrounding hills. Invisible lead wasp dug into the wolf’s thigh and burned it through. For the first time in his life Grey the Cruel-Hearted gave a voice. Screamed furiously, he nipped himself on the thigh and flew over the head upside down, which has never happened to him before.
Jumping on, Grey the Cruel-Hearted on three legs frantically drove away from roaring camel. Chilled human hands did not have time to reload the gun - the wolf disappeared in the ravine. A long string of bright red drops stretched along his three-paw trail.
Somehow Grey the Cruel-Hearted jumped to a large ravine near the Black Hill and fell down into the snow. The tight burning from pierced bullet, just like scorched with a firebrand out of the fire. Wolf began to lick the wound from the outside and from the groin, constantly trembling and frightenedly bewaring the ears.
The pack was gone, now it will not come back to this area. It is good that it is far away and that young wolves did not smell his fresh blood, did not see him lying on a red snow - that's when they could have got even with him!
There was no sound of a chase. Strange camel did not go on the trail, but Grey the Cruel-Hearted was afraid of other thing. He was waiting for a dog's barking and stamping of horses after him.
And people were delayed, did not gather the pack immediately. Dogs did not go out from aul - they sensed the approach of lingering icy snowstorm.
Frost continued unabated and the wind increased. The steppe moaned. And snowy tails hanged over the steppe from the ground to the sky.
Grey the Cruel-Hearted rose slowly. Looking back, on a sideway, on three paws, sometimes frantically regurgitating with a fourth paw, he jumped to the reed thicket on the salt lakes.
Three days unceasingly buzzed the multi-voices steppe snowstorm and the day was indistinguishable from the night. Three days Grey the Cruel-Hearted didn’t stick his neck out of the snow-covered reeds. He dug into the snowdrift, buried his nose into the tail, and his blood wasn’t froze in the veins, warming better than the yurt’s fireplace.
Grey the Cruel-Hearted emaciated, got weak, but the wound in his groin, torn and oblique has closed, clotted.
On the fourth night he got out of the snow and limping badly went to the steppe. On the move he warmed up, limping become less noticeable, but the pain continued unabated.
For a week he was starving. He was searching for carrion – but didn’t find. Only by the end of the week had luck: he run against the mare fallen behind the herd with yearling colt, he nibbled the colt, lay down beside him and stuffed himself with it all night long, without stopping. He burped and stuffed, burped and stuffed, picking up underneath his swollen belly the numb in cold injured paw.
Another week passed. The wolf’s thigh healed and was whining less. He began to run faster and threw off reserve. He was drawn to the Black Hill.
In the evening he went to aul, where he grew up, and stood on the crest of the hill with his wool rearing from ears to the tail. No camel was seen in aul. And no dogs heard.
- They are with flocks and herds out in the steppe. Grey the Cruel-Hearted set off to scour the familiar places and trails, putting a wet nose against the wind.
From a distance, there was a slightly sweet smell of sheep. Grey the Cruel-Hearted wrinkled his lip. On the horizon, in the yellowish light of dawn, loomed a tall figure of the rider. A small herd of sheep was squashed up at the feet of a horse. Shepherd led them to the paddock.
The wolf ran across the path, hiding behind mounds and hillsides. Jumped out, as always, like hell, unexpectedly, but the shepherd immediately saw him and suddenly shouted with a thin, childish voice, desperate, but powerful.
Grey the Cruel-Hearted stopped abruptly squatting on the tail and plowing the snow with his paws. A boy was sitting on a horse, a teenager with a long, not on the hand’s length, shepherd's club.
A boy!.. The wolf was not afraid of him.
Grinning maliciously, Grey the Cruel-Hearted darted sideways to get around the little shepherd, and crept to the plaintively bleating and pressing against each other sheep. This bleating, crush heated the wolf. In front of him there was an easy and fat prey, soft bones, and sufficient blood. But the boy started to bit the horse’s hips with the heels, lifted over the head heavy, unruly club and fearlessly rode straight at the wolf.
Grey the Cruel-Hearted unwittingly turned aside from the flocked up fold. The boy cried incessantly. And something strange in boy's crying tormented and frightened the wolf. The wolf ran, boy chased him not allowing close to the sheep. Standing on his stirrups, shaking the club he yelled on the top of his voice, choking:... ok ...erek! ... ok ...erek!
Wolf snapped the fangs and increased the pace.
The boy was an artful rider and desperately goaded the obedient horse, beat him with a club, but saw that was far behind. Grey the Cruel-Hearted was leaving and the boy taking a swing threw the club after him like a spear.
It touched the wolf’s injured leg with a rounded end and rolled on the icy ground, jumping and ringing. Grey the Cruel-Hearted fiercely grabbed it with fangs and instantly snapped in two parts. Then he turned and, pressing his ears, wrinkling the lip, as if smiling with a ferocious wolf’s smile silently rushed to the boy. He jumped and pulled by the flap of his sheepskin. The horse pulled away with frightened neigh, and the boy flew out of the seat and hit the ground, on the icing plastered with fluffy snow, with his back and head so that the cap flew off his head and rolled down the white slope.
The last thing the boy saw was a familiar to him wolf’s ear, ragged at a temple in a fight with the dogs in those days when the gray was living in the aul yet.
The boy was already dead when the wolf swept over him and straight off ripped his cheek with a bent fang.
At night, the boy’s corpse was picked up, carried to the aul and laid down near the fireplace in yurt.
The old grandmother sat down at his feet.
- My colt, - grandmother kept saying, my colt! ..
And her dried up weak-sighted eyes could not give off the desired tear.
Then the turn came of the hunter Khasen, who was well-known in those lands, and his reddish-white greyhound.
Khasen has exchanged his dog in Semipalatinsk for a horse.
There was little receding hairline on the dog’s forehead with four symmetrical rays and that’s why the owner called him White Starry – Akkaska.
People talked much about Akkaska, everyone knew him, and felt certain that he comes from the legendary, celebrated in songs dog of batyr Bogembai of Kanzhygal family.
The dog was highbred, proud and hot-tempered. While feeding he took the meat with growl. At stops Khasen put him on a chain, the dog allowed only the owner to approach. Underbred aul’s dogs avoided Akkaska and barked at him from afar. Akkaska did not notice them, yawning lazily lying for hours on his belly motionless, putting long chaps on the long paws, and was getting enthusiastic only during the hunt, easily outstripping any horse and loudly, terribly barking. His eyes lighted up like a wolf’s eyes, but not with a green but reddish flame, just like hot coals.
Khasen spent several days with the herdsmen, studying the habits of the Grey the Cruel-Hearted, asking about him. Men spent the night in shelters. And the whole nights at fires, hot debates kept going about the lonely wolf that killed Kurmash. But Khasen heard nothing new, unexpected for himself.
People were saying that the wolf is mad. They said that he wasn’t a wolf but a hyena. No wonder he is so inconceivable greedy. Khasen didn’t believe in fables.
- It's a wolf, - he said. - And you can’t feed the wolf with hay!
The herdsmen quarreled and threatened:
- Ah, would he just come across our hands! .. Khasen laughed:
- And what would you do then? Take off his skin?
Only the bitter words of Kurmash’s father touched Khasen painfully. On the grave of his son, he said to the hunter:
- You are a lairy fellow ... brave and persistent ... But it is true that not that easy to take a werewolf. But if you do not kill him, you must know - you're not a kin of mine any more and not a Dzhygit, no one would need you and your dog is worthless. Then do not show up here.
Khasen has decided to gather the herdsmen for a raid – otherwise he wouldn’t manage. They did not have to persuade...
At dawn, before the raid, Khasen has not given the meat to his dog; put in front of his neb a bowl of soup of dry finely crumbled sheep cheese. Akkaska quickly ate and did not take his eyes from the master. Clever dog understood: a big, important hunting, dangerous rut is coming up.
- Well, Akkaska – said Khasen, patting the dog's ear, - whether you kill him, or he does, there is no way otherwise. Dead Kurmash son will go with us to be the third one...
Akkaska was watching closely at the owner’s eyes, impatiently waving his red-haired tail.
They went out into the steppe and Khasen let the dog loose on from the band so that he could stretch his legs and warm up the chest. Akkaska with huge jumps raced on through the bluish of the morning dusk snow.
Khasen divided the people into groups and sent out in different directions, and climbed up himself with Akkaska on the rocky top of a lonely, windswept hill. Hunters took the aul’s dogs and rode away. Khasen spread out between the sharp stones a thick felt, put Akkaska on it and lay down next in the snow, holding the dog by the collar.
Akkaska was laying under master’s hand quietly, but his ears constantly tossed from side to side like a weather vane. From everywhere came the shrill voices, random dogs’ barking disheveled by the wind.
Suddenly Akkaska rose up on the front paws not obeying Khasen’s hand, peering cautiously toward the quiet hollow. Now the dog looked like a golden eagle searching for a prey from the rocks. But for a long time yet it was empty and bare in the hollow, and people’s cries and dogs’ barking seemed to be moving away. It is unlikely that the blanchers saw a wolf - gray walked in their many versts ring invisible. Akkaska unusually hunched, lowered his muzzle. Maybe the hare’s bed turned off his attention? Greyhound likes to chase the hares.
No. Akkaska was right. Wolf suddenly, silently appeared where the dog was waiting for him - in a quiet, desolated, and covered with snow hollow. Here he is a fox! The drifts are loose here, flimsy – virgin land. The horse will not pass over the fresh trace; he will stick to his belly.
The wolf was running in trot, salable, but slowly, cautiously, and Khasen with a minute doubt bit his lip glancing at the dog. Gray was in a full force and from afar resembled the roan colt with a wolf's chaps. Exactly like a werewolf!
Wolf came from the windward side and didn’t sense the hunter and hound. But Khasen didn’t hope that the beast would come close for an aimed shot, and loosed the dog saying, “Go ... Get him!”- he ran himself to his horse, tied behind a rock.
Gray the Cruel-Hearted immediately, from the first glance, appreciated the point and power of the red-white greyhound. It is impossible to run away from him. The dog flew at him from the hill with a resounding, bumping roar; it was rangy and twice as great as the black and piebald dog. Behind her, among the rocks, just like between the camel humps, a man passed with a smooth black stick. There is a raid around. Rush!
Dog and wolf confronted on a snowy slope, and the dog knocked down the wolf amain from his feet and rolled down failing to stand. Both jumped up, grappled the fangs and went apart with bloody chaps breathing hoarsely. Diamond cut diamond ...
Several times Gray the Cruel-Hearted rushed against the dog and was met with his heavy, well-aimed fangs’ blow. However, the wolf twisted, managed to rise above the dog on the hillside and grabbed his lower ear, as he did in the beginning of winter to the pack leader, but Akkaska didn’t bent, shook the wolf strongly and escaped, leaving in his teeth a piece of his red hair and skin. Gray the Cruel-Hearted realized that this fight will not come to end soon. And a horseman already raced galloping down from the hill, shouting excitedly:
- Hold him, hold, dear! Akkaska-ah!
Gray the Cruel-Hearted yelp shortly and went right through.
Dog and wolf knocked with their fangs together again so that sparks would flash if it was dark. And then Akkaska not bewaring, but remembering only what the man was shouting, stacked his nose right into the wolf's chaps and tightly gripped the beast by the lower jaw.
Now they couldn’t be uncoupled: dog was biting the wolf’s jaw, and the other – the dog’s one, and none could strike down the other to the ground.
Khasen galloped. The horse was dancing beneath him, standing on its hind legs. And Khasen’s hands were shaking. He threw the gun, jumped out of the saddle and not thinking about himself too came crashing down with all his body on wolf’s back. He stuffed a slice under his shoulder blade.
Akkaska released from the frantically grin wolf’s chaps his tattered neb and walked away. He stood for a while and fell down on his chest. Against him Grey the Cruel-Hearted was lying on his hip.
The hunters started to arrive and one of them pointed his whip at the wolf’s teeth opening his black and red chaps, and all were marveled at how big it was.
- The devil!.. - said the one moving away.
- Kokserek! - said Khasen, carefully examining the Akkaska’s wounds.
Wolf’s corpse was brought to aul, left at the Kurmash’s yurt, and here the old grandmother recognized Gray the Cruel-Hearted, as Kurmash did, by his ragged ear.
- Kokserek! – called out the old grandmother, wringing her hands. - Three times a damn ... Where is your conscience? Bloodsucker!
And she kicked the wolf with her weak foot into the grinning chaps.